Leadership safe, but Congressional schedule uncertain

Congress cancelled all its scheduled activities in the wake of terrorist attacks Tuesday, and it was not immediately clear when work on Capitol Hill would return to normal.

A senior Republican leadership aide said he expected Congress would not be in session for "the next few days." The aide added that congressional leaders plan to convene later this afternoon to determine the schedule.

Rep. James Moran, D-Va., who attended one in a series of briefings conducted for legislators by the Capitol Police and the Sergeant at Arms' offices, said that while no decision about the final schedule had been announced at the late morning briefing he attended, he would not be surprised to see Congress shuttered for at least another day, noting that Congress and the White House are the "next most logical targets that have not been hit."

At presstime, the Capitol complex, including the congressional office buildings and the Library of Congress, as well as the Supreme Court, remained closed and cordoned off by the combined police forces of those agencies.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden, D-Del., said it is critical that Congress, "as rapidly as we can, get about the business of the nation," although he acknowledged that, for security reasons, Congress might not be able to reconvene immediately.

Speaking of terrorists, Biden said: "They win when we are not seen. They win when we are not in session." Biden urged that Capitol police immediately begin a security sweep of the congressional complex.

"Sweep quickly, sweep hard. Let's get back to work. Let the American people and the world see us," he advised.

All top congressional leaders were safe at undisclosed locations, although Senate President Pro Tempore Robert Byrd, D-W.Va. - who is third in line of succession to the presidency after Vice President Dick Cheney and House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., - attended one of the Capitol Police briefings, along with House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., according to Rep. Harold Ford, D-Tenn.

Among other leaders seen attending briefings at the Capitol Police headquarters was House Republican Conference Chairman J.C. Watts, R- Okla.

"The speaker has been evacuated. He is secure," said an aide to Hastert, speaking on the telephone from Hastert's district office in Illinois. An aide to Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, reached at the senator's Irving, Texas, district office, could not determine Armey's location, but confirmed his safety. "All I know is he is in the presence of the Capitol Hill police and is safe," the aide said.

Earlier in the day, as the Capitol was being evacuated, Byrd lamented the fact that Congress is essentially "wide open" to terrorist attack, and said that is one reason why he does not attend joint sessions of Congress or the annual State of the Union address.

Among security precautions taken, Moran said members were told that the Capitol Police's bomb-sniffing dogs had swept the entire complex, including parking garages and above-ground lots for explosives and that nothing had been found. He noted the area was evacuated entirely as a precaution. Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., reported legislators were told that F-16 fighter planes were flying at regular intervals over the Capitol; indeed, at least three sonic booms, followed by the sound - but not sight - of aircraft could be heard above the Capitol this morning before the entire complex was evacuated. Ford added that Capitol Police asked members for their telephone and cell phone numbers, and were planning to set up an information line and would contact members with that number.

Meanwhile, former Rep. Bob Livingston, R-La., who served on the House Intelligence Committee, told CongressDaily Tuesday that security arrangements and contingency plans have long been drawn up to protect the president, congressional leadership and staff.

"It was always perceived that this could happen, but it was perceived as beyond belief," Livingston said.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec